The pandemic has pressured everyone more than ever, even the strongest of us. The fact that ‘burnout’ has become an everyday word says it all. Here, Petris Lapis explains what causes burnout and, crucially, what you can do to get to a better place.
Let’s start with a case study…
I met Cheryl when her exec sent her to me for coaching to ‘deal with’ her attitude. Apparently, Cheryl was increasingly cynical about the company, impatient with her colleagues, having trouble concentrating and no longer took pride in her work. When I asked further, Cheryl had previously been an engaged and happy employee. Quickly, I realised she was experiencing job burnout.
Three factors gave it away:
- Her exhaustion was a chronic stress response from having too much to do with high time pressures.
- Her cynicism was a result of feeling negative and hostile towards her job.
- Her behaviour e.g., impatience with others showed she was having negative feelings about herself. Cheryl felt she wasn’t good enough and had made a mistake in taking the job.
Where does job burnout come from?
It doesn’t just arise at work. Personal factors, such as a lack of close personal relationships, too many responsibilities, poor sleep, the need to be perfect and the need to control all increase the risk of burnout.
At work, there are six influential areas – and Cheryl was suffering from all of them:
- Workload – Cheryl had too much to do in short timeframes.
- Control – Cheryl couldn’t control her volume of work or when it was due. Her workload was entirely a result of her exec.
- Reward – Not pay, but rather recognition of a job well done. Cheryl’s boss never thanked her or openly appreciated what she did, regardless of the effort she made.
- Workplace community – Cheryl felt bullied by her boss and without anyone she could confide in.
- Fairness – We all want to be respected and Cheryl didn’t feel she was being treated fairly.
- Values and meaningfulness – Cheryl was unhappy that her manager regularly asked her to bypass company regulations to ‘make things happen’.
All in all, it’s no wonder Cheryl was experiencing job burnout. But her boss saw her as the problem.
Explaining with an analogy
I explained to Cheryl about the canary in the mine. When the canary enters the mine, it’s happy and singing. If it comes out covered in soot and sick, we don’t ask why the canary made itself sick or send it to a resilience workshop. We look at what’s going on in the mine.
Suggesting some time off then sending the canary back into the same mine isn’t going to improve things. Likewise, Cheryl taking time off and coming back into the same situation wouldn’t help her. Things must change to generate a different outcome.
The next steps
First, we looked at the six areas above and identified small, easy changes that could be made. She decided to speak up about the requests against company policies and I spoke with her manager about being more appreciative.
Next, we looked at what Cheryl could do on a personal basis – regular contact with friends, prioritising, relaxation techniques and exercise. Anything that looked after her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing was valuable.
It breaks my heart as a coach when I see good people no longer engaged or motivated because they’re burned out. If this is you, can you take heart then take the small steps you need to recover love and appreciation of what you do every day?